The frenzied opening weeks of free agency are now behind us. Unlike the previous two years, the St. Louis Rams barely made a ripple in the first two weeks of free agency, preferring to devote their limited salary cap resources to re-signing a pair of their own free agents. In a nine-day period - March 23-31 - the Rams finally signed their first free agents from other teams. Each was a relatively low-cost, low-risk acquisition, characterized by one-year contract terms, and minimal guaranteed monies. Given the number of quality, younger players the Rams will be looking to re-sign in the next 1-3 years, conserving future salary cap space is doubtless a prudent strategy. A strategy Kevin Demoff alluded to - in an interview on CBS Radio 920 (link) - noting the Rams are still saving money (future salary cap space) for re-signing their own young players over the next few years.
March 14 - The Rams re-signed offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.
The accompanying chart presents Rodger Saffold's five-year contract with the Rams:
Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Roster Bonus Salary Cap Hit 2014 3,000,000 1,000,000 4,000,000 2015 4,000,000 1,000,000 3,000,000 8,000,000 2016 4,500,000 1,000,000 375,000 5,875,000 2017 4,722,233 1,000,000 375,000 6,097,233 2018 5,000,000 1,000,000 1,375,000 7,375,000
Saffold's five-year deal is worth $31,347,233. Playing time incentives and escalators can increase the overall total value of the contract. The actual money fully guaranteed is $11 million ($5 million signing bonus, $3 million 2014 base salary, 2015 $3 million roster bonus). The 2015 and 2016 base salaries - totalling $8.5 million - are currently guaranteed for injury only, but become fully guaranteed if he's on the Rams' roster the third day of the league year in each of 2015 and 2016. Guaranteed monies included in the contract can reach a maximum of $19.5 million. If Saffold earns post-season honours - Pro Bowl or All-Pro - he earns the right to void the final two years of the contract. This contract is structured on the basis of "pay-as-you-go", ensuring all guaranteed monies are paid within the first three years. The net effect of his signing is a $3.58 Million reduction ($4 million less $420,000) in the Rams' off-season salary cap space.
March 14 - The Rams re-signed linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
The accompanying chart presents Jo-Lonn Dunbar's two-year contract with the Rams:
Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Roster Bonus Salary Cap Hit 2014 751,157 128,821 879,978 2015 999,999 125,521 1,125,520
Jo-Lonn Dunbar's two-year deal totals $2,005,498. The only guaranteed money is the $128,821 2014 roster bonus. The contract includes incentives for playing time and team performance, which can earn Dunbar up to $720,022 in each of the two years. If Dunbar remains a Ram for both seasons and hits on all incentives, the total deal is just under $3.5 million. The Rams have the option of including any earned incentives as salary cap hits for either 2014 or 2015. Dunbar can void the final year of the contract - by February 15, 2015 - if he plays 50% of the defensive snaps or the Rams make the playoffs in 2014. The net effect of his signing is a $459,978 reduction ($879,978 less $420,000) in the Rams' off-season salary cap space. It's interesting to note the continued use of palindromes in Rams' player contracts. Each of the figures associated with Dunbar's 2014 contract terms includes a palindrome. Clearly, Kevin Demoff likes having some fun with the league office!
March 15 - The Miami Dolphins signed former Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
The accompanying chart presents Cortland Finnegan's two-year contract with the Dolphins:
Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Workout Bonus Salary Cap Hit 2014 3,500,000 1,000,000 25,000 4,525,000 2015 5,450,000 1,000,000 25,000 6,475,000
Cortland Finnegan's contract with the Rams included a $3 million roster bonus in 2014, the full amount counting against the Rams' salary cap, irrespective of his release. Language written into the contract allowed the Rams to offset the full $3 million if he was signed by another team, for an amount in excess of $3 million for 2014. His two-year deal with the Dolphins includes a $2 million signing bonus, and $3.5 in fully guaranteed base salary for 2014. These amounts ensure that the Rams will receive the offset, resulting in a $3 million reduction in dead money (and consequently a $3 million increase in available salary cap space). It has yet to be determined when the offset credit will become official, although it's reasonable to suggest it will occur within the next 30 days.
March 23 - The Rams signed a pair of free agents: CB Greg Reid, and LB Etienne Sabino. Neither player was on an NFL roster in 2013. Greg Reid was signed to a 3-year league minimum contract ($420,000 in 2014). Sabino was signed to a one-year league minimum contract ($420,000). Their signings don't affect the Rams' off-season salary cap space.
March 25 - The Rams signed free agent defensive tackle Alex Carrington to a one-year contract. The one-year deal is for $1.5 million in total ($1 million base salary, plus a $500,000 roster bonus paid upon signing). The roster bonus and $500,000 of the base salary are fully guaranteed. Carrington can earn up to $1.5 million as incentives, based on playing time, team success, and sacks. The Rams have the option of including any earned incentives as salary cap hits for either 2014 or 2015. The net effect of his signing is a $1,080,000 reduction ($1.5 million less $420,000) in the Rams' off-season salary cap space.
March 26 - The Rams signed free agent quarterback Shaun Hill to a one-year contract. The one-year deal is for $1.75 million in total ($1.25 million base salary, plus a guaranteed $500,000 signing bonus). The net effect of his signing is a $1,330,000 reduction ($1.75 million less $420,000) in the Rams' off-season salary cap space.
March 31 - The Rams signed free agent wide receiver Kenny Britt to a one-year contract. The one-year deal is valued at $1.4 million, with $550,000 - $500,000 in base salary and a $50,000 bonus - fully guaranteed. The contract includes $1 million in base salary, a $50,000 signing bonus, and $350,000 in roster bonuses. The roster bonuses are earned in the following manner: $100,000 for off-season workouts, $150,000 for being on the opening day active roster, and $6,250 for each game on the active game day roster. Britt's contract includes $1.5 million in incentives for playing time, performance, and team success, which - if earned - increases the maximum value of the contract to $2.9 million. The Rams have the option of including any earned incentives as salary cap hits for either 2014 or 2015. The net effect of his signing is an $880,000 reduction ($1.375 million less $495,000) in the Rams' off-season salary cap space.
April 8 - The Rams signed free agent punter Bobby Cowan to a one-year contract. The one-year deal is for the league minimum $420,000 in base salary. Cowan, a 2013 UDFA from the University of Idaho, was likely signed as a training camp body. His signing doesn't affect the Rams' off-season salary cap space.
St. Louis Rams' Current Roster
|C||Scott Wells||Tim Barnes||Graham Pocic|
|RG||Rodger Saffold||Brandon Washington|
|RT||Joe Barksdale||Sean Hooey|
|LT||Jake Long||Mike Person|
|TE||Jared Cook||Lance Kendricks||Cory Harkey||Justice Cunningham|
|WR||Tavon Austin||Austin Pettis||Stedman Bailey||Justin Veltung|
|WR||Chris Givens||Brian Quick||Kenny Britt||Emory Blake|
|RB||Zac Stacy||Benny Cunningham||Isaiah Pead||Darryl Richardson||Chase Reynolds|
|QB||Sam Bradford||Shaun Hill||Austin Davis|
|P||John Hekker||Bobby Cowan|
|DT||Kendall Langford||Jermelle Cudjo|
|DT||Michael Brockers||Alex Carrington||Matt Conrath|
|DE||Chris Long||Eugene Sims||Mason Brodine|
|DE||Robert Quinn||William Hayes||Sammy Brown|
|MLB||James Laurinaitis||Daren Bates|
|OLB||Alec Ogletree||Phillip Steward||Etienne Sabino|
|OLB||Jo-Lonn Dunbar||Ray Ray Armstrong||Caleb McSurdy|
|CB||Janoris Jenkins||Brandon McGee||Greg Reid|
|CB||Trumaine Johnson||Darren Woodard|
|S||Rodney McLeod||Cody Davis|
|S||T.J. McDonald||Matt Daniels|
St. Louis Rams 2014 Individual Cap Hits And Available Salary Cap Space
|Player||Position||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Roster Bonus||Cap Figure|
|Top 51 Contracts||94,143,791||21,243,538||4,593,037||119,980,366|
|62 Players On The Roster|
|62 Players With 2014 Contracts|
|Total Dead Money||6,133,805|
|Off Season Total Cap Hits|
|Top 51 Contracts||119,980,366|
|Total Dead Money||6,133,805|
|2014 Total Cap Hits||126,114,171|
|Off Season Team Salary Cap|
|2014 Unadjusted Salary Cap||133,000,000|
|2014 Available Salary Cap Rollover||172,529|
|2014 Accrued Workout Bonuses||504,000|
|2014 Prior Year Adjustments||845,000|
|2014 Adjusted Team Salary Cap||131,823,529|
|Available Cap Space||5,709,358|
2014 Adjusted Team Salary Cap - $131,823,529
2014 Total Cap Hits - $126,114,171
Available Salary Cap Space - $5,709,358
Terminology And Calculations
Available Salary Cap Space - The amount of money the Rams have remaining to spend on player contract obligations, without exceeding the salary cap. The calculation to determine the available salary cap space is: the dollar amount of the adjusted salary cap, less the total dollar value of current active contracts (cap hits) less any "dead money".
Dead Money - The amount of money counting as cap hits in the current year, for players that are no longer with the team. These amounts consist of guaranteed money/bonuses/prorated amounts outstanding for 2014 (in some cases beyond 2014).
Salary Cap Figure (Hit) - Any contractual obligation counting against the salary cap in a particular year. It's the sum of a players base salary, signing and/or other bonuses, and any incentives/escalators deemed to be earned.
Available Cap Rollover - The amount of the preceding years available cap space not used in that year. The amount carried forward by the Rams from 2013 to 2014 is $172,529. Salary cap provisions allow for the carry forward to be added to salary cap space for the current year.
The Salary Cap - The maximum amount a team can have in total cap hits, plus dead money, without incurring penalties imposed by the NFL. These penalties can be financial in nature and/or include the loss of draft picks.
Signing vs Other Bonuses - A signing bonus can be defined in its literal sense. The signing bonus is spread out - prorated for cap purposes - evenly over the life of a contract. Other bonuses include roster, incentive, option, etc. bonuses that occur in different years of a contract, and in varying amounts.
Top 51 Contracts - There are three sets of salary cap rules prevalent in any league year. During the regular season, all contract obligations - and dead money - count against the salary cap. After the regular season - but before the start of the new league year in March - teams are not required to be compliant with the salary cap. On March 11 - the beginning of the new league year - teams must be compliant with the league off-season salary cap provisions. In the off-season, only the top 51 cap hits - plus dead money - count against the salary cap. This remains in effect until September, just before the start of the regular season.
Accrued Workout Bonuses - Are adjustments charged by the league, reducing a teams available salary cap space. These bonuses reduced the Rams' salary cap space by $504,000 on March 11. From the 2011 CBA:
"...all players will earn $175 a day for each day they participate in 2013. That per day number changes every other year, with the next increase slated for 2015. The NFL charges each team at the start of the 2014 league year a cap fee of $504,000 for minimum workouts on top of the contracted bonuses, so any reported cap space number between now and the start of the regular season needs to be reduced by $504,000. At the end of the workout period teams have their salary cap credited for money that was not earned."
Prior Year Adjustments - The league adjusts/charges a teams' current year salary cap for player incentives earned in the previous year.
Unadjusted Salary Cap - The base salary cap amount ($133 million in 2014) for each of the 32 NFL teams.
Adjusted Team Salary Cap - The actual salary cap (after adjustments) for a particular team in the current league year. Each team will have a different figure for cap purposes. For 2014, the Rams' Adjusted Team Salary Cap equals the base salary cap ($133 million), plus the carry forward from 2013 ($172,529), less the prior year ($845,000) and accrued workout bonus ($504,000) adjustments.
Roster Detail - Currently, there are 62 players on the Rams' off-season roster. All 62 of them are under contract for 2014. Contracts run concurrently with the league year.
Methodology - To derive salary cap figures and information, two main sources are used: the NFLPA and the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NFLPA only publishes team salary cap details as team totals. Once the totals are established, I then compile information for individual contracts, ensuring they collectively add up to match the NFLPA totals (link). At last count, 83 sources have been used to compile data on the Rams' individual contracts.
Additional 2014 Operating Costs And Effective Salary Cap Space
It's reasonable to suggest the Rams have completed their more expensive free agent signings/re-signings for 2014. Aside from the draftees, future signings will likely be inexpensive veterans (guard? safety?) and UDFA's. The additional signings will bring the roster up to the off-season 90-player limit, and will have very little impact on the salary cap. When the Rams receive the $3 million offset from Cortland Finnegan's contract with Miami, the available salary cap space will be $8.7 million.
The $8.7 million in salary cap space is a notional amount, reflecting salary cap space availability during the off-season. To arrive at the true - or "effective" - salary cap space figure, all of the 2014 additional operating costs must be taken into consideration. These include the net cost of signing the rookie class, the cost of an additional 2 players counting against the salary cap - from 51 to 53 - in September, a season-opening reserve, and the cost of an 8-man practice squad.
The accompanying chart presents a breakdown of the estimated additional operating costs for 2014, when the costs will be incurred, and a calculation of the Rams' true/effective salary cap space (the current available salary cap space less the additional operating costs):
2014 Rookie Cap Hits (est.) Total Rookie Cap Hits 11,385,000 Less: 12 x 420,000 5,040,000 Net Cost To Sign Rookies (est.) 6,345,000 [May - June] Season Opening Reserve (est.) 3,000,000 [September] Practice Squad (est.) 856,000 8 x 107,000 [September thru December] Roster From 51 To 53 840,000 2 x 420,000 [September] League adjustments to cap 0 [All were made by March 11] Total Additional Operating 11,041,000 Costs (est.) 2014 Team Summary Adjusted Team Salary Cap 131,823,529 Total Current Cap Hits 126,114,171 Available Salary Cap Space 5,709,358 Less: Total Additional 11,041,000 Operating Costs (Estimated) Plus: Cortland Finnegan's 3,000,000 Roster Bonus Offset Effective Total Salary Cap Space -2,331,642
The Rams currently sit in a deficit position, with respect to Effective Total Salary Cap Space. Before the season begins in September, the Rams - barring any further transactions of note - will have to create an estimated $2.331 million in salary cap space, to be compliant with the league regular season salary cap requirements. The Rams were in a similar predicament last year. A friendly restructure of Chris Long's contract (converting base salary to a signing bonus) helped alleviate the problem. A not-so-friendly restructure of Harvey Dahl's contract resulted in a pay cut, and $1.25 million in cap space relief. For 2014, James Laurinaitis' contract is set up in a manner that's conducive to a friendly restructure, if necessary. Scott Wells' contract - with a $6.5 million cap hit this year - may be targeted for a restructure involving a pay cut, if circumstances warrant it.
The relatively tight salary cap space situation helps explain the Rams' spending patterns this off-season. The "budget" simply didn't allow for profligate spending in the free agent market. The Rams obviously had a well-thought-out plan for approaching free agency, and managed to execute it in a fiscally responsible manner. They prioritized re-signing Rodger Saffold - as their one significant expenditure - and added a number of quality, complementary depth players to the roster. All without breaking open the piggy bank. In fact, free agency materialized pretty much the way Kevin Demoff said it would:
"When you look at free agency, this is the year we’ve targeted probably to be a little less active ... than others."
"If there’s someone who can help us, who can fill a role, we’ll still explore that."
The contracts of these additional signings all shared - for the most part - the same characteristics: One-year, incentive-laden terms, very little guaranteed money, and virtually zero impact on the Rams' salary cap structure beyond this year. The Rams' depth was improved considerably, without jeopardizing future salary cap stability in the process. Sure, they could have busted the budget, and spent the big dollars on a Jairus Byrd or Geoff Schwartz. We'll be glad they didn't, when it's time to re-sign Robert Quinn, John Hekker, Michael Brockers et al. Rams fans will be even happier after the upcoming draft, when the remaining positions of need are addressed with quality younger players...at a fraction of the cost of signing free agents. The youngest team in the NFL is about to become even younger in the weeks ahead.